Can a Landlord Use the Self-Help Remedy of Locking Out a Tenant?

Where a Tenancy Is Governed By the Residential Tenancies Act, a Landlord Is Forbidden From Changing the Locks As a Self-Help Means to Evict a Tenant. A Landlord That Engages In An Unlawful Lockout May Be Ordered to Compensate the Tenant and Be Subjected to Significant Fines.

A Helpful Guide On How to Determine Whether the Landlord May Lockout a Tenant For Failure of Rent Payment or Other Reasons

Lease Agreement Document When a landlord becomes frustrated and loses patience with a tenant that owes rent or is engaging in unlawful conduct, is disturbing other tenants, or other concerns, there may be an urge to use the self-help means of locking out the tenant as a means to remedy the problem.  Regardless of the frustration level, or cause of frustration, per the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006,, S.O. 2006, Chapter 17, a landlord is forbidden from using a lockout as a self-help method to evict a tenant.

The Law

There are many sections of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 that may be interpreted as applicable to a situation where the landlord changes locks without providing a key to a tenant, thereby locking out and effectively evicting the tenant.  Expressly addressing lock changes is section 24 and impliedly also addressing the issue is section 22 which prohibits a landlord from interfering in the reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit as well as  section 23 which prohibits a landlord from, among other things, obstructing or interfering with a tenant.  Specifically, section 22, section 23, and section 24, state:

22  A landlord shall not at any time during a tenant’s occupancy of a rental unit and before the day on which an order evicting the tenant is executed substantially interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit or the residential complex in which it is located for all usual purposes by a tenant or members of his or her household.

23  A landlord shall not harass, obstruct, coerce, threaten or interfere with a tenant.

24  A landlord shall not alter the locking system on a door giving entry to a rental unit or residential complex or cause the locking system to be altered during the tenant’s occupancy of the rental unit without giving the tenant replacement keys.

As above, it seems clear that at least three, and perhaps more, sections of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 are applicable to a circumstance where a landlord locks out a tenant.

Proper Eviction Requires Process

In many circumstances, a landlord may feel that locking the tenant out of the rental unit is an appropriate response to concerns regarding the tenant.  The landlord may be concerned about arrears of rent owed by the tenant, unlawful use of the premises by the tenant, harassment of other tenants, among other things.  Regardless of the concerns held by the landlord, and reasons perceived to justify a lockout, the landlord remains forbidden from locking out the tenant.  Instead, the landlord must properly proceed through the due course of a proceeding via a Landlord Tenant Board hearing for an Order to Evict.  The requirement to pursue proper process rather than initiating self-help 'lockout' remedies is found in the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 where it is stated:

39  A landlord shall not recover possession of a rental unit subject to a tenancy unless,

(a) the tenant has vacated or abandoned the unit; or

(b) an order of the Board evicting the tenant has authorized the possession.

40  No landlord shall, without legal process, seize a tenant’s property for default in the payment of rent or for the breach of any other obligation of the tenant.

The obligation to pursue proper process rather than to pursue self-help remedies was confirmed by the Landlord Tenant Board within the case of O.W. v. A.C.HOT-03127-18-AM (Re), 2018 CanLII 141506 where it was said:

7. Based on the evidence before me, I am satisfied on a balance of probabilities that the Landlord breached section 24 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (the “Act”) by altering the lock on the door to the rental unit during the Tenant’s occupancy without giving the Tenant replacement keys. Even if the Tenant was not paying her rent or was causing other issues in her tenancy, the Landlord was required to follow the procedures for terminating the tenancy in the Act, instead of circumventing them. The tenancy could only be terminated in accordance with the Act, as provided by section 37, but in this case the Landlord attempted to do so unilaterally and contrary to the provisions of the Act.

As said by the Landlord Tenant Board in the O.W. case, "... Even if the Tenant was not paying her rent or was causing other issues in her tenancy, the Landlord was required to follow the procedures for terminating the tenancy ..."; and accordingly, a self-help remedy, such as a lockout, for any reason, remains unjustified and unlawful.

Unlawful Lockout Remedies, including fine potential

Where a landlord unlawfully locked out a tenant, a tenant may apply to the Landlord Tenant Board for a variety of rememdies. The right to apply to the Landlord Tenant Board is provided in section 29(1), paragraph 5, of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 which states:

29 (1) A tenant or former tenant of a rental unit may apply to the Board for any of the following orders:

1. An order determining that the landlord has breached an obligation under subsection 20 (1) or section 161.

2. An order determining that the landlord, superintendent or agent of the landlord has withheld the reasonable supply of any vital service, care service or food that it is the landlord’s obligation to supply under the tenancy agreement or deliberately interfered with the reasonable supply of any vital service, care service or food.

3. An order determining that the landlord, superintendent or agent of the landlord has substantially interfered with the reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit or residential complex for all usual purposes by the tenant or a member of his or her household.

4. An order determining that the landlord, superintendent or agent of the landlord has harassed, obstructed, coerced, threatened or interfered with the tenant during the tenant’s occupancy of the rental unit.

5. An order determining that the landlord, superintendent or agent of the landlord has altered the locking system on a door giving entry to the rental unit or the residential complex or caused the locking system to be altered during the tenant’s occupancy of the rental unit without giving the tenant replacement keys.

6. An order determining that the landlord, superintendent or agent of the landlord has illegally entered the rental unit.

As for the remedies available, the Landlord Tenant Board holds broad powers per the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 and may, per section 31(3),  order the landlord to return possession of the rental unit to the tenant.  Specifically, section 31(3) states:

(3) If the Board determines, in an application under paragraph 5 of subsection 29 (1), that the landlord, superintendent or agent of the landlord has altered the locking system on a door giving entry to the rental unit or the residential complex, or caused the locking system to be altered, during the tenant’s occupancy of the rental unit without giving the tenant replacement keys, and if the Board is satisfied that the rental unit is vacant, the Board may, in addition to the remedies set out in subsections (1) and (2), order that the landlord allow the tenant to recover possession of the rental unit and that the landlord refrain from renting the unit to anyone else.

In addition to the power to Order the landlord to return possession of the rental unit to the tenant as provided by section 31(3) of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, the Landlord Tenant Board is also empowered per section 31(1) and section 31(2) to order any of the following:

31 (1) If the Board determines that a landlord, a superintendent or an agent of a landlord has done one or more of the activities set out in paragraphs 2 to 6 of subsection 29 (1), the Board may,

(a) order that the landlord, superintendent or agent may not engage in any further activities listed in those paragraphs against any of the tenants in the residential complex;

(b) order that the landlord, superintendent or agent pay a specified sum to the tenant for,

(i) the reasonable costs that the tenant has incurred or will incur in repairing or, where repairing is not reasonable, replacing property of the tenant that was damaged, destroyed or disposed of as a result of the landlord, superintendent or agent having engaged in one or more of the activities listed in those paragraphs, and

(ii) other reasonable out-of-pocket expenses that the tenant has incurred or will incur as a result of the landlord, superintendent or agent having engaged in one or more of the activities listed in those paragraphs;

(c) order an abatement of rent;

(d) order that the landlord pay to the Board an administrative fine not exceeding the greater of $10,000 and the monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court;

(e) order that the tenancy be terminated;

(f) make any other order that it considers appropriate.

(2) If in an application under any of paragraphs 2 to 6 of subsection 29 (1) it is determined that the tenant was induced by the conduct of the landlord, the superintendent or an agent of the landlord to vacate the rental unit, the Board may, in addition to the remedies set out in subsection (1), order that the landlord pay a specified sum to the tenant for,

(a) all or any portion of any increased rent which the tenant has incurred or will incur for a one-year period after the tenant has left the rental unit; and

(b) reasonable out-of-pocket moving, storage and other like expenses which the tenant has incurred or will incur.

Accordingly, the Landlord Tenant Board may issue an Order instructing numerous financial remedies including return of possession of the rental unit to the tenant.  Where the tenant is unable to return to the rental unit due to the unit being subsequently rented to a third party, or other reason, remedies are financial including compensation for inconvenience, increased cost of rent in a new, presumably comparable, location, moving expenses, storage expenses, among other things.  Furthermore, per section 31(1), paragraph (d), the Landlord Tenant Board may also issue a fine against the landlord in a maximum sum of $10,000 or further sum as equal to the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court.

Summary Comment

A landlord is forbidden from using a change of lock to lockout a tenant.  A lockout is considered a form of 'self-help' remedy.  Where a landlord unlawfully locked out a tenant, a tenant may apply to the Landlord Tenant Board for various remedies.  The remedies may include an Order instructing the landlord to return possession of the rental unit to the tenant; if such remains possible.  Additionally, many forms of compensation may also be available in favour of the tenant.  Lastly, the landlord may be subjected to significant fines.  Accordingly, a landlord must use proper process through the Landlord Tenant Board if the landlord wishes to evict a tenant.


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